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Linking Courts to Major Arcana

Something that you notice after working with the cards for a few months is that some cards are very similar in appearance or in meaning to others. The Three of Cups and the Four of Wands, for example, both depict a party or gathering in most Rider-Waite variants. The Eight of Swords and Two of Swords often show a woman blindfolded, and the Five of Wands and Five of Swords are similar in both appearance and interpretation. Not all of these similarities are useful, of course, but one set of correspondences which can be extremely useful is the relationship between the court cards and the Major Arcana.

Consider, for a moment, the Empress from the Rider-Waite deck. She sits on a throne in the countryside, with a crown on her head, vegetation around her and a river behind her. Now look at the Queen of Pentacles from the same deck. She also sits on a throne in the countryside, with a crown on her head and vegetation around her and a river behind her! One could suppose, with a little imagination, that the pink flowers around her are the same flowers as those on the Empress' dress. Even their meanings are similar; both are often said to represent fertility and motherhood. It is clear to even the casual observer that there is a link between these two.

By examining the meanings and correspondences of the court cards and the Major Arcana we can deduce other such links. I have given what I believe to be the most obvious of these connections in the table below; there are of course other possibilities but there is a lot of evidence suggesting these particular links.

Court CardMajor Arcanum
Queen of PentaclesThe Empress
King of WandsThe Emperor
King of PentaclesThe Hierophant
Queen of SwordsJustice
Knight of WandsThe Tower
Knight of CupsThe Chariot

The exercise of assigning the remaining ten court cards to Major Arcana is left to the reader, and it is not an exercise that should be done in haste. Take your time; try various approaches, and see which works best for you. I find the best way to link the court cards to the Majors is by imagery or correspondences. For instance, the Queen of Swords is an air card that depicts a woman holding a sword. So is Justice, and both cards correspond to the sign of astrological sign of Libra. If you prefer using other methods, go right ahead.

The purpose of this exercise is not only to amuse the mind; far from it. It provides yet another way of understanding the elusive court cards; most readers can understand the Major Arcana well enough, but are often confused by the court cards - and I am quick to include myself in this category! But with a list of these links available, you can mentally replace a court card with its equivalent Arcanum and see what happens. Often this makes the card easier to interpret, and once you have a general idea of what the corresponding card is saying, you can switch back to the real card and dig even deeper.

This technique can be used to augment the "missing card" technique which I described earlier. If the Major necessary to complete a group is not in a reading, but its equivalent court card is, that is very significant. It means that the energy represented by that card really is involved but it is manifesting differently than expected. Likewise with court cards; if a court card has been replaced with its equivalent Major then it's as if that card's energy has gone into overdrive and is manifesting much more powerfully than usual.

There are many more applications of this court-Minor equivalence that I will leave for you to discover on your own. You might want to think about, for example, what the cards would be telling you if a Major Arcanum and its associated court card appeared together in a reading. What if they were in opposing positions, or if one were weak and the other strong? Think about the different situations and possibilities, and see what you come up with. And don't forget to combine court-Minor equivalence with other techniques whenever you can - they are two great tastes that taste better together.

Copyright 2000 James Rioux